Wednesday, March 19, 2003

US e-government

I'm in Washington for a few days - I'll be speaking at an e-government conference tomorrow, here is its press release, and have also taken the opportunity to meet some of the Federal officials responsible for e-government here. It seems a funny time to be in the USA and, particularly, to be in Washington but my theory is that there is no safer place than here given the security. I have to be at the conference at 8.30 tomorrow. Ugh. I met with Terry Lutes at the IRS today and spent a fruitful hour or so comparing notes on tax filing initiatives. The IRS has a significantly higher percentage of people filing electronically than we do in the UK and I wanted to see how that had been done and what the plans for development are. I'll draw out the contrasts another time. Terry also referred me to the "pay.gov" site which is going to provide some of the authentication processes necessary for online filing. Pay.gov is not there yet, the website contains lots of "coming soons" and little that I can latch onto, but there is a very good FAQ. As near as I can tell, the plan is to ask a series of questions that will vary depending on what you're trying to access. The questions might include employment or credit information, and the answers will be compared with both government and commercial databases. If there's enough of a match, then you get access. In the future, you'll be able to build up an online identity that lets you do more and more. I've kicked this idea around many times back home, spent time talking to the Experian folks about perhaps using their databases and to the company registration database holders. But I've never managed to get sufficient interest to move it forward. It looks like pay.gov has the buyin to move ahead and, whilst there may be little there now, it's something to watch. Partnership with industry to develop secure authentication has to be the right thing to do - if you can login to your bank account, you ought to be able to deal with government with the same id one day. Terry talked about work he's doing with the credit card companies and others too, all of which is interesting and right where we need to be in the UK. While I had an idle minute, I also checked the latest developments on the govbenefits.gov site, which I've visited several times in the past and commented on. What led me there was a news release on firstgov that heralded a Gracie award for the site (I don't know what that is, but any site that is winning awards is worth a look). More and more benefit programmes are being added to the site, to the point where ticking just a couple of boxes on the home page (I ticked "senior" and "farmworker") led me to 30 questions with those answers prompting 20 more, all of which led to a couple of dozen benefits I could apply for. You still can't apply for the benefits online (so there is no "common information" page) and the information that you've typed in to get to the end doesn't seem to be held, also some of the questions are a bit strange (they're conjured up front, rather than in relation to specific answers - so you can get several questions about your children or your wife, independent of prior answers). But, that said, it brings together many of the benefits available, does it in a citzen focused way and saves you wading through the sites of all the benefits that you aren't eligible for. That, to me, is worth an award. Doubtless improvements will be made over the coming months and, as some of the services come online, you'll be linked directly to them with prepopulated information (perhaps taken from your pay.gov account). That, again, would be worth an award or three.

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